Marlene Bennett Jones: “I don’t ever want it to be a lost art”October 2nd - November 20th, 2021
Photography by Greg Carideo
Marlene Bennett Jones is a quilt maker from Gee’s Bend, Alabama. This is the first exhibition of the 74 year old artist in Miami and the first gallery exhibition of the Gee’s Bend Quilters in South Florida. While the Gee’s Bend Quilt makers are often looked at as a whole, this exhibition seeks to highlight Marlene’s work individually.
Focusing on a bold group of 15 recent quilts, I don’t ever want it to be a lost art looks to find how this particular artist has found her voice through tradition and community and how the works have inspired countless contemporary painters working today. The 15 works on view speak both to the rural, craft-oriented tradition from which they stem and also to the graphic, architectural abstraction which they inspire.
For generations, the women of Gee’s bend have looked to the world around them for inspiration, creating intricately crafted geometric abstractions that are now known the world over. The quilted works of the women of Gee’s Bend have been exhibited and collected by museums all over the world including the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Modern Art New York and the Tate, London. As Michael Kimmelman wrote of their work in The New York Times, “The results, not incidentally, turn out to be some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced.”
Marlene began quilting at the age of 8, when her mother would teach her a stitch or two after school. As the years went on, Marlene grew away from quilt making, and it wasn’t until her mothers illness drew her back home, to Gee’s Bend, more than twenty years ago, that Marlene returned to the quilts. Sitting by her mothers bedside, she would layout swatches of fabric and sew them based on intuitive reactions that the two women would share.
Once her mother passed, Marlene continued to quilt, this time as a form of communing with her parents, often using their clothing (as in Mom and Pop) as a form of dialoguing with her deceased parents. As the years have gone on, Marlene continues to quilt, growing ever more connected to the art form and increasingly bold in her palette and patterns. As she told me over the phone, she wants to continue the traditions of the Bend, while depicting the voices and visions that come to her individually as an artist.
Marlene Bennett Jones was raised on a farm in Gee’s Bend Alabama, the eighth oldest of 14 children, she grew up farming and working the field with her family. Despite her difficult childhood, Marlene went on to study electronics, and became an aeronautical electrician, first at Beechcraft, and eventually at Lockheed Martin. After her retirement, she returned to Gee’s Bend to assist her mother who was ill with Alzheimers, it was then that she returned to quilting. In the years since, her work has been featured in the Alabama Bicentennial, the Kentucky Art Center, the Pearl Academy, Parts and Labor in New York, and the Royal Academy in London.